Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Foraging for Food

According to, foraging is the acquisition of food by hunting, fishing, or the gathering of plant matter. I've continued to come across this as a method of food sourcing in many sustainable living guides, including some of my favorites such as Organic Gardening magazine and The Backyard Homestead. But honestly, it seemed like too much work... I mean, really, with a full time job, who has time to go out and hunt this stuff up?

Until I realized that I already do this in some ways. Picking summer blackberries along our road is technically foraging; I am acquiring food by gathering it from a wild source, in this case an overabundance of blackberry canes. I gather apples from our school yard and plan to go with a friend who knows most of the apple trees along public sidewalks in our area (she propogates apple trees by taking cuttings, so she makes it her business to know where they are in town). I use these apples for applesauce, canning pie filling, and making apple butter. When we hike, I love looking for wild berry patches (I am always careful to take my field guide so I know what I'm eating is what I think I'm eating).

Some foraging guides mention common weeds as edibles, such as dandelion greens (which I love for their spicy flavor in salads) and even our dreaded pokeweed for cooking greens (though I hear it stinks to high heaven when cooked, which has kept me from trying it thus far). Lamb's quarters are also edible greens, and the wild daylilies apparently make fabulous little fried fritters when battered like squash blossoms. I know that wild mushrooms and morels are another source of foraging fodder, but am a little too hesitant to try them on my own. I'd love to find someone local who knows what to look for who could show me how to ID these things.

We're also considering having a neighbor or friend get a deer for us this fall so that we have this source of low fat, high protein meat this winter and next spring. We live in an area where processing fees are minimal, making this meat only about $1 per pound, well below supermarket and farmer's market prices. In other areas of the country, it's easy to acquire wild protein sources through fishing or hunting other game.

One of the best things about foraging is that it's a free source of organically grown food (which helps us stick to our food budget and our ever increasing commitment to eat locally and organically). For me, it's also a great time to enjoy nature and spend some quiet time alone, or pleasurable time with friends or family. It also allows us to enjoy the flavors of fresh produce in the off season. By freezing wild blackberries, strawberries(these are the tiny ones that most people rip out of their yards--I try to transplant them when I dig them up and have managed to make my own little strawberry patch for free!), and grapes, we can have them on our cereal in the morning or in smoothies or desserts (they're fabulous over homemade icecream!). Another added benefit is that if I have an excess, I can these items (jams, jellies, preserves, sauces, etc.) and donate them to our local food pantry. Some food pantries will take fresh donations, so you might check your location to see what they prefer.

If you're interested in foraging, Organic Gardening magazine (Feb/March 2011 issue) has a great article and source list on the subject.

What about you? Do you forage for things in your area? What's your favorite "wild" food? Maybe it's salmon berries in Alaska or clams in Maine (mmm, clams... wish we were closer to the coast so I could do some seafood foraging!) I'd love to hear from you!

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